I met up with Thu An Nguyen Ha at our Hong Kong Summit. She leads strategy for clients out of from our Vietnam 360 Digital Influence team. I was struck from her by how fast social media is being adopted in Vietnam. Combine that with the economic enthusiasm in the country and I would guess we will see big leaps forward there.
I asked her about what is hot and happening there now in relation to brands and social media.
Q: What would you say are 1-2 defining characteristics of the social media world in Vietnam today?
A: The social media world in Vietnam today is going through an experimental phrase for all those who embrace it: users, developers, and brands. Adaptation from successful global entities kicks off with some interesting platforms like social network ZingMe (facebook inspired), linkhay microblog equivalent of twitter, two.vn answer to foursquare, and recently in the last 6 months we saw an aggressive development of group buying sites such as nhommua (similar to groupon).
Vietnamese social media users are loyal to their platforms. This might sound obvious as we’re community creatures but this basically means individual blogs, bloggers and influencers don’t exist or stand out without being attached to a mass and popular community. And yes it’s true, to be fair, Facebook has replaced the Yahoo!360 phenomenon and 'facebookers,' anyone really, who has more than 2,000 fans can be considered an influencer.
Social media in the eyes of brands and marketers in Vietnam today is starting to be ‘noticed’ – with the same mentality of discovering what platforms can bring to their integrated digital communication plan. There’s a feeling of almost ‘testing the water’ and trying out different ways to engage in social media effectively.
The majority of social media ‘pro’ brands are the FMCGs or consumer goods companies such as Unilever, Dell (technology & communication industry), Coca-cola, etc. All the development seem to be in-sync together: platforms are setting up while brands are also still figuring out which are the best and where audiences and users are also choosing to base their own social graphs. Although I must admit Facebook in most cases still wins over the mentality of the current ‘best’ preferable platform. If we didn’t suffer the limited access, I have total confidence that Facebook would have grown well beyond the current limited 1.4mill users.
Q: More and more brands are experimenting with social media for marcom purposes. For a typical B2C marketer what would your top three recommendations be?
A: I can't stress enough the importance of developing a strategic approach to social media. Some brands consider it’s just production, an add on to their digital communication plan. Most don’t have a clue what the role of their Facebook page should be, while others can't think of anything else but creating a Facebook page. The normal pattern we see would be brands jumping straight onto the social media wave without understanding the nature of it. So I would say think hard on a strategy and the objectives that would help a brand drive their total brand goals or communication goals.
Secondly, content. Brands, by large, are still thinking of one-way communication and not really thinking from a consumer perspective. The standard behavior of wanting to push out messages, campaign and programs without having a good story or asking the basic questions like how can I involve my audiences, what value do I bring to them, and how can I be a part of my consumers' conversations. Conversations in social media require solid, interesting, relevant and almost unique type of communication where content is at the core of everything. Develop a social media conversation/content plan to tie in with your audience's behavior and preferences and then marry these with your branded content. Alternatively, create content uniquely for social media as those are actually quite cost effective.
Be Brave – I would say. Brands should at least start to realize and take up the belief that social media is changing the way they’re operating, do business and communicate with their audiences and customers. Companies who are already doing digital work, especially great work, need to move fast into the area of social media, get a good advisor/agency and embark on the social media path.
Typically PR managers – who would normally view digital as a brand manager or marketer job, should have the courage to do ‘social’. The ‘social’ territory might seem vague and mysterious, probably due to the fact that PR managers are not familiar with the possibility of having proper, effective measurement for social media programs. In addition, brand managers can start to venture into the area of applying social media to drive business impact that goes beyond brand awareness.
Q: Which brand(s) is doing something interesting in social media in Vietnam and why?
A: I would say Coca-cola (Coke). Instead of using the globally aligned Facebook platform, Coke in Vietnam has identified its target audience locally: targeting a younger crowd, focus on a teen to the first-jobbers market that is also the biggest internet users segment in Vietnam.
Coke connected with the young spirit of online users and most of the population who loved to be entertained, via the most popular SNS platform ZingMe. Using the already massive user database and network, Coke built a site that sits within the community. With the new direction of ZingMe going less gaming and moving into more communication, it would be interesting to see how the Coke community within ZingMe grows.
A few international brands in Vietnam have started to plug-in their global/regional program of establishing Facebook counts despite the difficulty in access. We see Dell, Adidas, HTC, Ford, Vietnam Airlines etc… operating here. Hence the question very soon would be which brands have the successful Facebook cases and doing great things in this platform.
Q: Any new technology/platform that excites you?
A: To be fair, ZingMe development kinda excites me a bit as they will be growing more towards the direction of communication rather than just games. ZingMe has a perceived perception as a very young, teen-like platform where nothing serious is going on there, this will soon change. We already see a few big brands taking the interest in building brand presence within the community and I would be keen to see.
Geo-location based is another one that I keep my eyes on. Since Foursquare we now see services that mimic this global trend being adopted here. Brands have not been ‘brave’ enough to invest in this, but Vietnamese users favor location & activities sharing and the mobile communications, and this will push these platforms forward. I do hope to see great mobile campaigns!